Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

  • Published

Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, edited by Paul Leventhal, Sharon Tanzer, and Steven Dolley. Potomac Books, 2002, 304 pp.

The 15 essays in Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons were originally presented at a conference held in 2001 on the 20th anniversary of the Nuclear Control Institute. Paul Leventhal founded the institute in 1981 and served as its president for 22 years. Sharon Tanzer is its vice president, and Steven Dolley served as research director at the time of the conference. The authors include a noteworthy collection of scholars, such as Richard Rhodes, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb as well as Dark Sun, Arsenals of Folly, and Twilight of the Bombs.

The essays are organized into four parts corresponding to the four conference sections, “How Essential is Nuclear Power?,” “Can Nuclear Proliferation Be Made Proliferation Resistant and Free of Long-Lived Wastes?,” “The Role of Nuclear Power in the Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons,” and “Three Closing Views.” Of special concern is the use of plutonium and enriched uranium as nuclear fuel and the technologies used to enrich uranium to weapon grade. The security of nuclear power plant waste and other radiological materials is a matter of concern, since terrorists could combine these with explosives to create a “dirty bomb.” The enforcement of a nuclear nonproliferation regime is essential, as the Indian, Iranian, North Korean, and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs demonstrate.

In his essay “Nuclear Power and Proliferation,” Richard Rhodes notes, “Solar and wind installations are inherently low capacity because their fuels, wind and sunlight, come and go. They cannot be expected to improve their capacity much with increased operating experience, as nuclear has done. . . . Although coal is cheap, it is also deadly. Nuclear power, which could replace coal with improved efficiencies and conservation, is nearly as cheap but without the air pollution. . . . Improved efficiency at nuclear power plants has accounted for almost half of all industry carbon reductions” (pp. 59–60, author’s italics). He also observes, “Eliminating all the nuclear power operations in the world would not prevent proliferation. . . . Instability caused by the social and economic impact of energy deficiencies “might even encourage it by increasing structural violence” (p. 63).

Although Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons is a decade old, it is still a valuable collection of expert thought on the subject. It clearly demonstrates that nuclear power plays a vital role in meeting global energy needs, and that a rigorous international nonproliferation regime is necessary to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The security of fuel, reactors, and waste are also crucial to prevent terrorism, both nationally and globally.

Frank Kalesnik, PhD

Air Force Research Laboratory History Office

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."